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Tech Beat - February 2, 2011

Tech Beat Archives

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Editor: Michael Baum
Date created: February 2, 2011
Date Modified: February 2, 2011 
Contact: inquiries@nist.gov

NIST Technique Controls Sizes of Nanoparticle Clusters for EHS Studies

The same properties that make engineered nanoparticles attractive for numerous applications—small as a virus, biologically and environmentally stabile, and water-soluble—also cause concern about their long-term impacts on environmental health and safety (EHS). One particular characteristic, the tendency for nanoparticles to clump together in solution, is of great interest because the size of these clusters may be key to whether or not they are toxic to human cells. Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have demonstrated for the first time a method for producing nanoparticle clusters in a variety of controlled sizes that are stable over time so that their effects on cells can be studied properly.*

Transmission electron micrograph of gold nanoparticles clustering in solution. The distance between the two red arrows is approximately 280 nanometers, some 200 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. The individual nanoparticles are approximately 15 nanometers in diameter, about the distance across 40 side-by-side sodium atoms.
Credit: A. Keene, U.S. Food and Drug Administration
View hi-resolution image

In their tests, the NIST team made samples of gold, silver, cerium oxide and positively-charged polystyrene nanoparticles and suspended them separately in cell culture medium, allowing clumping to occur in each. They stopped the clumping by adding a protein, bovine serum albumin (BSA), to the mixtures. The longer the nanoparticles were allowed to clump together, the larger the size of the resulting cluster. For example, a range of clustering times using 23 nanometer silver nanoparticles produced a distribution of masses between 43 and 1,400 nanometers in diameter. Similar size distributions for the other three nanoparticle types were produced using this method.

The researchers learned that using the same "freezing times"—the points at which BSA was added to halt the process—yielded consistent size distributions for all four nanoparticle types. Additionally, all of the BSA-controlled dispersions remained stable for 2-3 days, which is sufficient for many toxicity studies.

Having successfully shown that they could control the production of nanoparticle clumps of different sizes, the researchers wanted next to prove that their creations could be put to work. Different-sized silver nanoparticle clusters were mixed with horse blood in an attempt to study the impact of clumping size on red blood cell toxicity. The presence of hemoglobin, the iron-based molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen, would tell researchers if the cells had been lysed (broken open) by silver ions released into the solution from the clusters. In turn, measuring the amount of hemoglobin in solution for each cluster size would define the level of toxicity—possibly related to the level of silver ion release—for that specific average size.

What the researchers found was that red blood cell destruction decreased as cluster size increased. They hypothesize that large nanoparticle clusters dissolve more slowly than small ones, and therefore, release fewer silver ions into solution.

In the future, the NIST team plans to further characterize the different cluster sizes achievable through their production method, and then use those clusters to study the impact on cytotoxicity of coatings (such as polymers) applied to the nanoparticles.

* J.M. Zook, R.I. MacCuspie, L.E. Locascio, M.D. Halter and J.T. Elliott. Stable nanoparticle aggregates/agglomerates of different sizes and the effect of their size on hemolytic cytotoxicity. Nanotoxicology, published online Dec. 13, 2010 (DOI: 10.3109/17435390.2010.536615).

Media Contact: Michael E. Newman, michael.newman@nist.gov, 301-975-3025

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New TIP Three-Year Plan Outlines Future R&D Grant Directions for NIST

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has posted a "Three-Year Plan" outlining the topics of possible future competitions for R&D funding under the agency's Technology Innovation Program (TIP). The research funding roadmap, which looks three years past the current fiscal year, proposes a range of TIP competitions in the fields of civil infrastructure, manufacturing, energy, health care, water resources, complex networks and sustainability.

"We are posting the TIP three-year plan to keep our user community—industrial and academic research groups in this case—informed of our current plans for future R&D funding competitions," says NIST Director Patrick Gallagher. "But I want to stress that these are not engraved in stone. If you have better ideas, we'd like to hear from you."

TIP was created* to foster novel technologies to meet the nation's critical needs, and supports President Obama's commitment to winning the future by out-innovating, out-educating and out-building our global competition. Just this week, the White House launched the Startup America initiative with a focus on innovation and a plan to encourage private sector investment in job-creating startups, accelerate breakthrough research and address barriers to success for entrepreneurs.

The program provides cost-shared funding, on a competitive basis, for high-risk technology R&D that offers solutions to specific critical national needs identified by TIP. Program officials emphasize that the three-year plan is not a formal solicitation for proposals. There are no current TIP competitions.

TIP funds cost-shared R&D projects by single small-sized or medium-sized businesses or by joint ventures that also may include institutions of higher education, nonprofit research organizations and national laboratories. TIP awards are limited to no more than $3 million total over three years for a single company project and no more than $9 million total over five years for a joint venture.

Proposed TIP competition topics through FY 2014, according to the plan, would include advanced sensing technologies and advanced repair materials for civil infrastructure; advanced materials, biomanufacturing and manufacturing processes and robotics and intelligent automation for manufacturing; technologies to enable a smart grid; technologies for personalized medicine; technologies for water availability; complex networks; and sustainability.

The TIP Three-Year Plan is available at www.nist.gov/tip/upload/tip_programmatic_plan_fy2011_fy2014_01_25_2011.pdf. TIP has posted staff-written white papers detailing the scope of potential future competitions in civil infrastructure, energy, health care, manufacturing, robotics and water resources, and invites comments from the public. To read these, provide comments, or learn more about the TIP white paper process, see the TIP Website at www.nist.gov/tip/wp/. TIP also seeks white papers from the public in any areas of critical national need, including those not listed above. To submit your ideas to TIP, see the TIP call for white papers at www.nist.gov/tip/frn/upload/tip_frn_notice_seeks_white_papers_10_29_10.pdf.

* Under the 2007 America COMPETES Act, P.L. 110-69.

Editor's Note:

On April 19, 2011, the President signed into law, the final Continuing Resolution for the remainder of FY 2011. Under this bill, TIP was appropriated $44.8 million to be used for the continued funding of on-going TIP and ATP projects. No funds were appropriated for new TIP awards in 2011. Therefore, TIP will not hold a competitive funding opportunity for FY 2011. The President’s FY 2012 budget request submitted to Congress recommends $75 million for TIP in FY 2012.

Pending approval of the FY 2012 budget, TIP expects to hold funding competitions in one or more of the following research areas:

  • Advanced Robotics and Intelligent Automation
  • Civil Infrastructure
  • Energy
  • Healthcare
  • Manufacturing
  • Water

TIP is now updating its programmatic plan to reflect changing national priorities and expects to release a revised programmatic plan within the coming weeks.

Media Contact: Michael Baum, baum@nist.gov, 301-975-2763

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End of an Era: NIST to Cease Calibrating Mercury Thermometers

Beginning March 1, 2011, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will no longer provide calibration services for mercury thermometers. The cessation of the mercury thermometer calibration program marks the end of an era at NIST, which has provided the service since the doors opened in 1901. The closing of the program is part of a larger effort, in collaboration with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a number of professional standards organizations and environmental and industry groups, to phase out the use of mercury thermometers altogether.

NIST researcher Dawn Cross
NIST researcher Dawn Cross calibrates a mercury thermometer using the icepoint of water as a reference. NIST will cease to offer this service on March 1, 2011, in order to support efforts to reduce the amount of mercury in the environment.
Credit: NIST
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Mercury is a potent neurotoxin. Elemental mercury is found in thermometers and used in a number of industrial processes such as gold mining. Once released into the environment, mercury makes its way into streams, rivers, and finally the ocean. The mercury is absorbed by sea life and accumulates in the larger fish that humans like to eat. This is the main source of mercury poisoning in humans today.

While many industries follow ASTM standards that stipulate the use of mercury thermometers, these standards have fallen behind the states, many of which have outlawed the sale and transport of mercury thermometers. Presently about 300 of the approximately 700 standards have been amended to allow for the use of both mercury-free liquid-in-glass and digital thermometers.

According to NIST researcher Dawn Cross, each of these ASTM standards is reviewed on a rolling basis. She estimates that all the standards will have been amended to include detailed procedures for making the switch to mercury thermometer alternatives within three years.

“One of our major activities is fielding calls from industry and explaining the science of how they can make the switchover,” says Cross. “Change always brings confusion and apprehension, but in every case there is an alternative thermometer to suit the measurement need. It’s like learning to use a new cell phone or drive a car with a different kind of transmission; we’re simply substituting one technology for another, but they both work equally well.”

NIST itself had a stockpile of more than 8,000 industrial-use mercury thermometers hidden away in drawers.

The mercury from these has been sent to specialized recycling centers, which repurpose the mercury to produce compact fluorescent light bulbs. Mercury thermometers contain about 500 milligrams of mercury—an amount equal to the mercury in over 125 compact fluorescent bulbs.

According to Greg Strouse, leader of NIST’s Temperature and Humidity Group, that recycling doubly reduces mercury emissions.

“The amount of mercury in a compact fluorescent light bulb is about one to four milligrams,” says Strouse. “Most of that mercury is bound to the inside of the glass during the life cycle of the bulb, a process that makes it much less environmentally harmful. Burning of coal is a major source of vaporous mercury released into the atmosphere. Compact fluorescents use less electricity, which reduces the amount of coal burned, which reduces the amount of mercury released by a factor of four.”

Learn more about the NIST/EPA program to phase out mercury thermometers used in industrial and laboratory settings at www.epa.gov/hg/thermometer.htm.

Watch videos on alternatives to mercury-containing thermometers in industrial and laboratory settings at www.epa.gov/hg/nistvideo/index.html.

Media Contact: Mark Esser, mark.esser@nist.gov, 301-975-8735

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NIST Opens $20 Million Grant Competition to Support New Scientific Research Facilities

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has launched a new competition for grants to support the construction of new or expanded scientific research facilities at institutions of higher education and nonprofit scientific research organizations.

Through the NIST Construction Grant Program (NCGP), the agency expects $20 million to be available for grants ranging from $5 to $10 million over a period of no more than five years.

The program provides competitively awarded, cost-shared grants for the construction of new science research buildings or the expansion of existing buildings, including laboratories, test facilities, measurement facilities, research computing facilities and observatories. Since 2008, the program has provided over $250 million in grant funding for new or expanded facilities at 24 institutions across the nation to pursue research in topics ranging from earthquakes and ocean ecology to nanoscale engineering and quantum physics.

Because the NCGP is currently funded under a continuing resolution (Public Law 111-242, Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011, as amended), the 2011 competition is contingent on final appropriations for fiscal year 2011.

Proposed projects must complement the research goals of one or more of the U.S. Commerce Department’s three science agencies, NIST, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). These agencies conduct research in measurement science, engineering, oceanography, atmospheric research and telecommunications. Non-federal cost sharing of at least 20 percent of the yearly total allowable project costs is required.

Applicants must submit a Letter of Intent (form NIST-1102) to join the competition to NIST by 3 p.m. Eastern Time on February 24, 2011, and if determined to be eligible, a corresponding full proposal must be submitted by 3 p.m. Eastern Time on March 24, 2011. Proposals will be evaluated according to the scientific and technical merit of the proposed use of the facility, the need for federal funding, the quality of the design of the science research facility, and the adequacy of the project management plan. NIST also may consider the balance and distribution of projects across the Commerce Department’s program priorities and whether proposed projects would duplicate other federally funded initiatives.

Full details of the competition, including deadlines, application procedures and requirements, are available at Grants.gov and the NCGP Web site (www.nist.gov/director/ncgp). The current NCGP competition is assigned Funding Opportunity Number 2011-NIST-NCGP-01 and falls under Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) Number 11.618.

Media Contact: Michael Baum, baum@nist.gov, 301-975-2763

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Cloud Computing at NIST: Two New Draft Documents and a Wiki

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has issued two new draft documents on cloud computing for public comment, including the first set of guidelines for managing security and privacy issues in cloud computing. The agency also has set up a new NIST Cloud Computing Collaboration site on the Web to enable two-way communication among the cloud community and NIST cloud research working groups.

United States Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra asked NIST to accelerate the federal government's secure adoption of cloud computing by leading efforts to develop standards and guidelines in collaboration with standards bodies, the private sector and other stakeholders. These new draft documents and the collaboration site are part of NIST's work to fulfill that mission.

NIST has been researching cloud computing for several years and has been documenting a definition of cloud computing on its web page. Researchers have now published A NIST Definition of Cloud Computing (NIST Special Publication (SP) 800-145). NIST scientists are looking for feedback to determine if this definition remains valid or needs modification. SP 800-145 may be downloaded for review from http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/drafts/800-145/Draft-SP-800-145_cloud-definition.pdf, and comments on suggested changes or enhancements should be sent to 800-145comments@nist.gov no later than February 28, 2011.

Guidelines on Security and Privacy in Public Cloud Computing (SP 800-144) provides an overview of the security and privacy challenges for public cloud computing and presents recommendations that organizations should consider when outsourcing data, applications and infrastructure to a public cloud environment. The key guidelines recommended to federal departments and agencies, and applicable to the private sector, include:

  • Carefully plan the security and privacy aspects of cloud computing solutions before engaging them.
  • Understand the public cloud computing environment offered by the cloud provider and ensure that a cloud computing solution satisfies organizational security and privacy requirements.
  • Ensure that the client-side computing environment meets organization security and privacy requirements for cloud computing.
  • Maintain accountability over the privacy and security of data and applications implemented and deployed in public cloud computing environments.

Public comments are requested on this publication. SP 800-144 may be downloaded for review from http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/drafts/800-144/Draft-SP-800-144_cloud-computing.pdf, and suggested changes or enhancements should be sent to 800-144comments@nist.gov no later than February 28, 2011.

To further foster the cloud community's collaboration aimed to enhance the federal government's secure adoption of cloud computing, NIST also has created the NIST Cloud Computing Collaboration Site at http://collaborate.nist.gov/twiki-cloud-computing/bin/view/CloudComputing/.

This site provides general information about NIST's cloud computing program and an up-to-date listing of cloud computing events. One set of pages are used by the NIST-sponsored Cloud Computing working groups. These groups, which are open to all those who wish to register and participate, were established during the November 2010 Cloud Computing Forum and Workshop II, and include Business Use Cases, Reference Architecture and Taxonomy, Standards Roadmap, Standards Acceleration to Jumpstart the Adoption of Cloud Computing (SAJACC), and Cloud Security.

Each working group's page provides descriptions of the group's task, weekly meeting information and working documents. To contribute to the TWiki, register from the link on the main NIST Cloud Computing Program Web site at www.nist.gov/itl/cloud/.

Media Contact: Evelyn Brown, evelyn.brown@nist.gov, 301-975-5661

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NIST Issues Final Version of Full Virtualization Security Guidelines

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has issued the final version of its recommendations for securely configuring and using full computing virtualization technologies. The security recommendations are contained in the Guide to Security for Full Virtualization Technologies (NIST Special Publication (SP) 800-125). The draft report was issued for public comment in July 2010.

Virtualization adds a low-level software layer that allows multiple, even different operating systems and applications to run simultaneously on a host. "Full virtualization" provides a complete simulation of underlying computer hardware, enabling software to run without any modification. Because it helps maximize the use and flexibility of computing resources—multiple operating systems can run simultaneously on the same hardware—full virtualization is considered a key technology for cloud computing, but it introduces new issues for IT security.

For cloud computing systems in particular, full virtualization can increase operational efficiency because it can optimize computer workloads and adjust the number of servers in use to match demand, thereby conserving energy and information technology resources. The guide describes security concerns associated with full virtualization technologies for server and desktop virtualization and provides recommendations for addressing these concerns. Most existing recommended security practices also apply in virtual environments and the practices described in this document build on and assume the implementation of practices described in other NIST computer security publications.

The guide is intended for system administrators, security program managers, security engineers and anyone else involved in designing, deploying or maintaining full virtualization technologies. NIST SP 800-125 recommends organizations:

  • secure all elements of a full virtualization solution and maintain their security;
  • restrict and protect administrator access to the virtualization solution;
  • ensure that the hypervisor, the central program that runs the virtual environment, is properly secured; and
  • carefully plan the security for a full virtualization solution before installing, configuring and deploying it.

NIST SP 800-125, Guide to Security for Full Virtualization Technologies may be downloaded from the http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/nistpubs/800-125/SP800-125-final.pdf.

Media Contact: Evelyn Brown, evelyn.brown@nist.gov, 301-975-5661

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NIST Seeks Experts to Provide Guidance on Disaster and Failure Studies

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is seeking nominations of individuals for appointment to the National Construction Safety Team (NCST) Advisory Committee. The committee advises the director of NIST on matters related to the agency's work studying the performance of structures and associated evacuation and emergency response procedures during disaster and failure events.

The NCST Advisory Committee was established under the NCST Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-231), and was formed during the NIST-led World Trade Center investigation. Its composition reflected the technical disciplines central to that study. NIST now has established a Disaster and Failure Studies Program, which will be responsible for leading and coordinating future disaster and failure studies under the authorities of the NCST Act. The NCST Advisory Committee is being reconstituted to reflect this broader range of activities.

NIST's Disaster and Failure Studies Program will provide national coordination for field data collection, scientific and technical studies to develop findings and recommendations based on the data, promoting the implementation of study recommendations both to improve building and fire codes, standards, and practices and to fill gaps in knowledge about buildings and infrastructure performance, emergency response, and human behavior in hazard events.

The NCST Advisory Committee advises the director of NIST on the composition and function of disaster and failure study teams, the procedures used to carry out such studies under the NCST Act, the reports resulting from those studies, and implementation of study and advisory committee recommendations. The charter of the NCST Advisory Committee, viewable at www.nist.gov/ncst/ncst_charter.cfm, describes the committee's roles and responsibilities in detail.

NIST invites nominations, including self-nominations, from all fields involved in issues affecting disaster and failure studies. The agency especially encourages nominations of experts from industry and other communities, such as, but not limited to, universities, state and local government bodies, non-profit research institutions and other Federal agencies and laboratories.

Nominations submitted to NIST for consideration should provide a summary of the individual's qualifications for the NCST Advisory Committee, including his or her:

  • field of expertise for which the candidate is qualified;
  • established record of distinguished service;
  • current or former service with federal advisory boards and/or as a federal employee; and
  • statement that the candidate agrees to the nomination, acknowledges the responsibilities of serving on the committee, and will actively participate in good faith in the tasks of the committee.

Nominations must be submitted no later than Feb. 19, 2011, to NIST, Attn: Disaster and Failure Studies Program, 100 Bureau Dr., MS 8630, Gaithersburg, Md. 20899-8630. Nominations also may be faxed to (301) 975-5433, or submitted electronically to ncstac@nist.gov. The official request for nominations is available in the Federal Register at http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/pdf/2010-18378.pdf.

Media Contact: Michael E. Newman, michael.newman@nist.gov, 301-975-3025

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Baldrige Program Director Named Honorary Fellow of ACHE

Harry Hertz, director of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), has been named an Honorary Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE), an international professional society of more than 30,000 health care executives who lead hospitals, health care systems and other health care organizations. Hertz is being recognized “for his role in establishing healthcare as an official category of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award and for his career dedication to performance excellence.”

According to the ACHE, Honorary Fellowship is a special category of the society’s membership that “recognizes individuals who have rendered distinguished service in the healthcare field or in related areas and who would not normally be ACHE members.”

Hertz will be honored at a ceremony on March 20, 2011, during ACHE's 54th Congress on Healthcare Leadership in Chicago, Ill.

Media Contact: Michael E. Newman, michael.newman@nist.gov, 301-975-3025

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